Water scooter explodes, injuring Clearwater teens

Teenage sisters Tiffany and Heather Davis of Clearwater are taken to the hospital Sunday after the personal watercraft they were on exploded and caught fire near the Memorial Causeway.

EAMONN W. KNEESHAW | Special to the Times

Teenage sisters Tiffany and Heather Davis of Clearwater are taken to the hospital Sunday after the personal watercraft they were on exploded and caught fire near the Memorial Causeway.

CLEARWATER — Two teenage sisters were injured Sunday when their personal watercraft exploded in the Intracoastal Waterway north of the Memorial Causeway.

Tiffany M. Davis, 16, was piloting the 1999 Polaris watercraft, and her sister, Heather N. Davis, 19, was a passenger when the explosion occurred at 12:30 p.m.

Moments earlier, the sisters, both of Clearwater, had been stopped by Pinellas County sheriff's marine unit Deputy Richard Bennett near the Seminole Boat Ramp because they were not wearing life jackets.

Bennett ticketed the young women and directed them back to the boat ramp because neither had the documents required to operate a boat. The deputy started to leave, but returned when he saw the 16-year-old was having trouble restarting the engine.

As Bennett grabbed the handle bar to steady the craft, it exploded, knocking the young women into the water. Bennett pulled them aboard his patrol boat and took them to the nearby boat ramp, where they were met by paramedics.

The sisters were taken by ambulance to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where they were treated and released. At the family's home Sunday evening, a woman who answered the door identified herself as the mother of the two teenagers but would not provide her name. She said her daughters sustained only minor injuries in the accident.

The deputy was not injured. His "quick actions likely prevented a tragedy," Sgt. Dwayne Somers, Sheriff's Office Marine Enforcement Unit supervisor, said in a statement.

The vessel burned and later sank. An investigation into the cause of the blast is ongoing.

Florida law provides that anyone 21 years old or younger must complete a safe boaters course, pass a test and carry a boater identification card to operate any vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater.

Statistics show that injuries from personal watercraft have decreased in Pinellas County over the past decade. In 1997, there were 71 water scooter accidents, with 36 injuries and one fatality. In 2007, there were 17 accidents, 12 injuries and no fatalities, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or farlow@sptimes.com.

A word about flotation devices

• Make sure your personal flotation device is readily accessible. The only way to truly guarantee safety is to wear a PFD any time you are under way. Once you are in the water, a PFD is more difficult to put on. In most fatal accidents, boaters had PFDs on board, but they were not in use or were not within easy reach.

• Make sure the PFD is the proper size for the person wearing it. Check the label before buying. It will give you a weight and chest size. This is especially important when it comes to children. To ensure a snug fit, pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. If you can still see the chin and ears, it fits.

• Make sure your PFDs are maintained and in good condition. Over time, the sun may break down the synthetic material in a PFD. Look for rips, tears, weak straps or zippers.

For information on PFDs and boating safety, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Web site at www.floridaconservation.org/boating

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Boat Smart Manual

Water scooter explodes, injuring Clearwater teens 08/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2008 11:40am]

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